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Montauk, Clermont, Iowa

Back in the fall of 2018, I had discovered the town of Clermont in northeastern Iowa, one of the most special places in America. I realized later I had missed one of the most amazing houses in America, high up on the hill above the town.

Montauk, Clermont, Iowa, View from the Southwest, HABS IOWA,33-CLER.V,1–2

That house and surrounding estate is Montauk, the home of the twelfth governor of Iowa, William Larrabee. It was named after the lighthouse on the East Coast from which his wife hailed. For her father and brothers returning home, the sight of the lighthouse meant they were home, hence the name.

It is easily one of the finest examples of the Italianate style in America, and I’ve included some Historic American Buildings Survey photographs from the 1930s, I believe.

Montauk, Clermont, Iowa, South, Front Facade, HABS IOWA,33-CLER.V,1–1

Originally, the house looked own into the Turkey River Valley and the town of Clermont, but the trees have grown up too much today. Of course, the quarry along the river gives the region its distinctive limestone that accents the red brick of the built environment.

Gov. Larrabee considered the Union officers who won the Civil War heroes, and included statues of four in the front yard of his home. Below, I believe is General William Tecumseh Sherman, who of course lived in and is buried in St. Louis at Calvary Cemetery.

I can spot the likeness of Admiral David Farragut from a long ways away, having worked near the eponymous square in Washington, DC for many years! He of course captured New Orleans, Mobile and other Confederate strongholds. There is an elementary school in St. Louis with his name. There were two other statues which I forgot to photograph, but I’m sure one was Ulysses S. Grant, who also lived in St. Louis for a while.

The interior is spectacular, and due a daughter living in the house until 1965, is immaculately preserved. The family was interested in the Roman gods of Apollo and Minerva, and their likenesses featured throughout the house.

Parlor, Montauk, Clermont, Iowa, HABS IOWA,33-CLER.V,1–3

They also collected original and copies of Dutch Baroque painting from their trips to Europe, with artists such as Frans Hals represented in the collection.

Parlor, Montauk, Clermont, Iowa, HABS IOWA,33-CLER.V,1–5

The music room was cleaned only by Mrs. Larrabee and no one else. Apollo, the god of the fine arts, is on the left on the fireplace, and his sister, Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, is on the right. I believe that is a copy of Cupid and Psyche over on the right.

Music Room, Montauk, Clermont, Iowa, HABS IOWA,33-CLER.V,1–4

The “fireplaces” were actually coal-heated radiators, which are similar to the ones in Dr. Franz Arzt’s house in St. Louis. There was a move away from the perceived danger and inefficiency of fireplaces after the Civil War.

The back, utilitarian house was not too shabby, either!

They pumped water up into a tower, and then supplied hot and cold water into a sink in each bedroom. A large garden stretched out to the rear of the house.

Several other outbuildings are all still intact.

This barn probably held horses and later automobiles.

 

One Comment

  1. The HABS photographs are from 1977, right after the family had donated the property to the State of Iowa. If you have seen many HABS photographs, you can tell these are from later surveys and not the original Depression-era project. There have been very few HABS surveys since the Great Depression, so you are almost always right if you assume HABS photographs are from the 1930s. Almost no one has been willing to fund HABS surveys in the past eighty years, a great shame as they are the most comprehensive documentation of our architectural history and so few buildings have been surveyed by HABS.

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